MONROE — A Superior Court Appellate Division upheld decisions that two paid firefighters in Monroe Township Fire District No. 1 were wrongfully terminated five years ago.
“[Michael Mangeri and David Shapter] are very happy about the court’s decision,” said Dan Zirrith, attorney for the Monroe Township Professional Firefighters Association, International Association of Firefighters, and Local 3170.
Zirrith said the two men would “very much like to be reinstated to District 1.”
“They have served as both paid and volunteer firefighters in the past for District 1,” he said.
In 2014, the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC) upheld the findings of a hearing examiner, who determined that “anti-union animus” was a substantial or motivating factor for the termination.
“We affirm PERC’s determination and conclude PERC did not overstep its remedial authority by requiring the board to offer to reinstate the terminated employees with substantially the same work hours, responsibilities and benefits,” the three-panel judge stated in a 31-page opinion delivered on Dec. 8.
Zirrith said it is hard to come up with an exact dollar amount owed to the two firefighters; however, he said it is approximately “several hundred thousand.”
The Monroe Township Professional Firefighters Association, International Association of Firefighters, and Local 3170 argued that the District 1 Board of Fire Commissioners retaliated by firing Mangeri and Shapter after the union lodged unfair labor practice charges against the board.
The board had maintained the discontinuation of full-time firefighters in favor of using volunteers was designed to save taxpayer money for the township.
On appeal, the board again asserted its managerial action fell within its rights to assure fiscal responsibility and contended PERC had no authority to review the matter and, even if it did, it overstepped its remedial authority.
There are three fire districts in the township.
In 1999, the District 1 board hired three full-time firefighters: Mangeri, Shapter and Joseph Calella. In 2007, the board added a per diem firefighter to comply with a regulation requiring that four firefighters battle certain fires.
Calella later resigned due to a disability, and the board replaced him with a per diem firefighter rather than a full-time, permanent career firefighter.
In 2008, James Grande, the president of Local 3170 at the time, attended a board meeting and requested that the board fill the full-time firefighter position vacated by Calella.
The request created a back-and-forth between Local 3170’s counsel and the Board of Fire Commissioners. In 2010, the board unanimously passed a resolution dissolving the full-time paid firefighting staff in District No. 1.
Local 3170 alleged that the board violated the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act “by unilaterally assigning bargaining unit work to non-bargaining employees and retaliating against Local 3170 through threats and intimidation.”
Jonathan Cohen, of Apruzzese McDermott, Mastro & Murphy, P.C., represents the Board of Fire Commissioners.
He said the board filed a motion on Dec. 17 for reconsideration by the Appellate Division. He said the court had relied on an erroneous fact, which states “the board did not replace its career firefighters with volunteers for 2010. Rather, it contracted with District No. 3 to provide its weekday, day fire services for an equivalent amount earmarked in the 2010 budget to compensate the full-time paid staff.”
“That is demonstrably false,” Cohen said.
Cohen also said the court did not consider all the arguments that were made. He said the court relied on the money and surplus in District
No. 1’s 2010 budget that showed that it could compensate the career firefighters and per diem firefighters.
However, he said excluding the one person that is argued in court papers to be antiunion, there was no consideration given to reports from the fire chief showing that the volunteer firefighters could do the job just as well as the paid firefighters.
Cohen said there is no argument that there were available funds for paid firefighters; however, the Board of Fire Commissioners is tasked with making reasonable cost-saving analyses for Fire District No. 1, which he said was done in 2010.
He also noted that if taxpayers were unhappy with the fire board’s decision, the members could have been voted out of office.
Zirrith said he is aware of the Board of Fire Commissioners’ appeal for reconsideration; however, he said he believes it would not change the final decision in the matter.